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LPBC 2012-02-11 The Oracle's Cookies




This is an episode of the Living Proof Brew Cast.

I poured myself a bottle from the 2nd annual batch of my Sun-dial in the Shade Stout. John almost chose the same beer. He has been sharing the ones I gave him but decided to taste something else to make his supply last. I have already set aside some for the vertical tasting against the previous batch and for our customary beer gathering at Balticon. John paid me a compliment in describing his taste of this beer and shared his relief that the use of black patent malt alone isn't responsible for the challenging flavors in the black rum stout we made.

Overall I am very happy with this iteration of my oatmeal stout despite a couple of small missteps. One was that the batch ended up bigger than I had planned. The resulting alcohol was lower as a consequence. If I had had my refractometer at that time, I suspect we would have caught this mistake. The other more serendipitous accident was pushing far more specialty malt into the beer, including the black malt with which we've had trouble in the past. One definitive improvement is that this version of the beer charged well whereas the prior one took a while longer and was still undercharged even many months onward.

We spent a good amount of time discussing our first experiences using my new refractometer. We used it to make the vanilla porter John will be bottling very soon. You can use this measurement tool to take gravity readings all through the brewing process, with only a few drops of wort. Despite the increased quantity of samples we took, we actually felt much more liberated. Knowing what the gravity was all throughout acted as a safety net, a set of bumpers preventing under or overshooting by too much. John put it well, saying it really brought us much more into the moment of brewing. I explained how it made me think of cybernetics, a field where feedback loops are key.

The beer John had was the New Belgium Cocoa Mole, part of their Lips of Faith series. In discovering a source for this beer, John also found some place to get another bottle of the Southampton cuvee which we'll taste at some point with the North Coast grand cru. This beer and the Sun-dial both fall on the darker end of the color range. They also share a surprising sweetness. The Cocoa Mole evokes many flavor notes with which American palates may not be familiar but that both of us enjoy. John described it as having a really food like quality, a richness that complements the chile incredibly well.

I suggested that there are ways, in particular accessible to brewers, to develop an appreciate for the flavors in this beer. You can get cocoa nibs meant for brewing. Like tasting whole roasted coffee beans, you can crunch on the nibs to get a sense of the complexity of cocoa that the addition of sugar in candy making overwhelms or otherwise masks.

Our main topic of discussion was how we keep at the beer quest when we have less time to spare. It was inspired by John's recent job change and how as rewarding as working for the employer we both now do is, the work is also highly demanding. As much as we struggle to find time to record, to hang out and to brew, we've been cultivating ways to invite space for savoring beer and continuing to sample new brews.

Despite, or because of, the difficulties in getting good beer and variety of it in our home county, John had a good moment of mindfulness, noticing Barmy Wines right near the office. I explained a bit more what I meant by mindfulness. Simply taking the opportunity revealed a new source of beer with an excellent choice. Being so close to where we spend most of our weekdays, the wherewithal to simply walk into a random new place has paid off. John had a nice chat with the owner, in addition to what they already have on offer, they are willing to order anything special we might like. John noticed in particular the collaboration between Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada, Life and Limb, as well as other harder to find brews, a literal wealth of surprises. I have had similar experiences with Gilly's which we've talked about before. They are right near my metro stop close to home and that ease of access has helped immensely in keeping a good supply of beer on hand.

John extended that same awareness of surroundings to simply having the sorts of things on hand that help. He described a couple of insulated bottle carriers that very easily fit into a brief case or messenger bag. Having something on hand to keep beer safe and cool encourages through readiness selecting beer wherever it might be found.

As exhausting as our workplace is, in the best possible way, we are very fortunate to be surrounded by coworkers who appreciate good beer. Much of what the thinktank does includes events planning and execution, sometimes as evening receptions. Invariably the selection of beer our employer sources for appropriate events is more than your usual fizzy, yellow fare. I generalized that into other experiences I have had in approaching employers to set at least a slightly higher bar, like Sam Adams Boston Lager and Sierra Nevada PaleAle, rather than just getting whatever is cheapest in quantity. I have had good luck in just being willing to ask and converse about more interesting beer. John recommended drawing parallels where possible to appreciation for wine to help explain that there are some people who are at least as discriminating with beer.

Travel is one obvious way to keep the search for beer going. We have certainly talked about both of our travels, undertaken for work, and how we use them as an opportunity to try local and regional flavors. With just a little additional effort in trip planning, time and opportunity can be carved out for a one or two new beer experiences a trip. For those with extended social networks, travel is a good reason to reach out, to leverage regional and local guidance for the beer question.

In our final thoughts, John explained how he injured his finger. As traumatic as that experience was, there was a silver lining, finding a BTS (Burger, Tap and Shake) right across the street from the hospital where he got stitches. My first thought when John told me about this place and his initial guilt over ordering what sounds like an amazing burger was how there are times when we genuinely do need the comfort that derives from well made, good tasting food. John compared that to the seen between Neo and the Oracle in the first Matrix film, where the cookies she is baking, one of which she gives Neo, server this same purpose. The beer John had, the Smutty Nose Old Brown Dog, was warm and comforting in this same way. It made me think of the growing appreciation I have for brown and dark beers, like the Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron.

I had one more thought on inviting variety, that just keeping a good supply natural allows more beers to overlap, to have more than just a six pack of one thing around at a time. John compared this to the practice of cultivating a wine cellar. I amplified that very apt idea by noting that as beer drinkers, we often keep two cellars, one for short term storage and enjoyment, another more like a wine cellar with bottles set aside for longer. My newly continuously stocked short term cellar means I am also buying beer more frequently, hence seeing more of the small batches from Flying Dog, many of which I have shared on the cast. The most recent small batch I picked up was the Wildeman.



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